Tue | Jun 15, 2021

Who's killing Jamaica?

Published:Wednesday | June 6, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Din Duggan, Contributor

August 6, 1962: An extraordinary nation was born. Even before being thrust - in long socks and short pants - into an unforgiving world, Jamaica showed tremendous promise. Its guardians, like loving parents intent on seeing the best for their progeny, instituted a sensible, thoughtful growth strategy. Manufacturing, tourism, mining, banking, and finance constituted the foundation on which young Jamaica would build a bright future.

Things went well, initially. By 1958, Jamaica was the world's largest bauxite producer. Tourism boomed. The economy grew at an average rate of six per cent per year in the 1950s and three per cent annually in the 1960s. But suddenly, in its teenage years, as if stricken by some wicked curse, the young nation fell ill.

In the past 30 years - while others mastered industrialisation - Jamaica struggled to grasp basic economics, creeping along at an anaemic pace of less than one per cent per year. Today, instead of being the vibrant, developed country of our forefathers' visions, Jamaica languishes in a permanent vegetative state.

Dr IMF seems to be the only hope. The closest next of kin, Trinidad, screams: "Pull the plug." Others pray for deliverance. But the patient's eyes look lifeless - its vital functions supported by a respirator of debt. Death appears imminent - and suspicious. If and when the patient succumbs, who will be brought to book for its demise?

Suspect 1: The JLP

The brisk wealth creation of the '50s and '60s - primarily under the JLP - was unevenly distributed. Between 1947 and 1972, 47 per cent of Jamaica's total income went to the wealthiest 10 per cent of the population - extremely high, even by developing-nation standards (Barbados' top 10 per cent, in contrast, received 34 per cent of income, during that period). The JLP's growth model resulted in showers of blessings for a few. The masses received only a sprinkle. The nation, as a whole, was starved of the vigour and vitality required to confront the challenges of Independence. While the head grew large, the body atrophied.

Suspect 2: The PNP

In 1972, ostensibly to combat growing inequality and a global oil crisis, a newly PNP-led Jamaica made a drastic change in economic direction - pursuing a strategy of import substitution rather than fiscal restraint. By 1976, formerly private enterprises - telecoms companies, sugar factories, public utilities - were nationalised. Levies and taxes were increased on bauxite companies. Severe import barriers were established. Strict exchange controls were imposed.

This government expansion during a time of global recession was costly - budget deficits (relative to GDP) tripled between 1974 and 1980. These deficits had to be financed by increased borrowing. External debt grew from 58 per cent of GDP in the early 1970s to 82 per cent by 1980. The PNP's ambitious attempt at promoting equality instead inundated Jamaica with a glut of toxic debt - poisoning the young nation and leaving it for dead.

Suspect 3: The People

Jamaicans' favourite pastime - after track and field and 'bandwagonism' - is the blame game, the harshest of which has been reserved for politicians. They are worthy scapegoats. The country's guardians have proved not only exceedingly destructive in acquiring and maintaining power, but also quite impotent in effectively yielding that power.

Despite the devastation triggered by political dolts, Jamaica remains a democracy. The people elect the country's leaders and wield the authority to endorse or rebuke government behaviour.

Instead of demanding careful, responsible leadership, the people have sanctioned failed, destructive policies that have crippled Jamaica. The people - rich and poor alike - have accepted viciousness as a legitimate means of securing political control. We have embraced materialism and avarice as our guiding principles. And we have tolerated injustice as long as it is meted out in another's yard.

If the patient is to die, the prisons will be unable to hold the multitudes - civilians and politicians alike - responsible for its death. For the patient to live, we must destroy this sordid system of political tribalism. Both JLP and PNP must be dismantled. Of course, Justin Gatlin will beat Usain Bolt before that ever happens.

Since destruction is unlikely, dilution is the only option. A few good men and women - from both PNP and JLP - must leave their parties to form a legitimate third party. They must receive the support of a critical mass of the public. Only then, by offering Jamaicans a practical, conscientious, and respectable third option, free of the sins of the past, will we be able to adequately rehabilitate the patient. Only through the death of tribal bonds might we restore the life of a nation.

Din Duggan is an attorney working as a consultant with a global legal search firm. Email him at columns@gleanerjm.com or dinduggan@gmail.com, or view his past columns at facebook.com/dinduggan and twitter.com/YoungDuggan.